Major palm oil producers accused of destroying Indonesia’s forests and driving its iconic wildlife to the verge of extinction are now taking their practices to the relatively pristine forests of the Congo Basin, an environmental group has warned.
In its report “Seeds of Destruction” released this month, the Rainforest Foundation UK said there was “a real and growing risk that some of the serious, negative environmental and social impacts resulting from the rapid expansion of palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, such as widespread deforestation, social conflict and dispossession, could be repeated in the Congo Basin.”
“This report shows that some of the same major players behind oil palm production in Southeast Asia [such as Sime Darby, Goodhope, Wilmar and FELDA] are now turning their attention to Africa,” RFUK said.
The report said the companies were turning to the Congo Basin region, which includes Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, among others, because of lower land and labor costs and preferential access to the European Union market.
It warned that unless the African governments were fully aware of how these companies were operating in Indonesia and Malaysia, they could suffer from the same problems seen in Indonesia.
“Of the companies which have been identified as being behind specific developments, or are otherwise known to be seeking oil palm land in the Congo Basin, three — Cargill, Sime Darby and Wilmar — have been found in the past to be involved in illegal and destructive oil palm development in Indonesia,” the report said, citing independent claims made by the environmental groups Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and AidEnvironment.
It added that the negative environmental and social impacts “typical of [palm oil] developments in Indonesia have already been well-documented at … Sime Darby’s concession in Liberia.”
RFUK listed the negative impacts as deforestation and loss of biodiversity, increased carbon emissions from the clearing of primary and peat forests, conflicts with indigenous residents over land rights, pollution of local water resources and poor working conditions for local laborers.
To avoid these problems, it recommended greater transparency in the palm oil contracts, ensuring respect for local communities and empowerment of smallholder farmers, among other measures.
The increased expansion into Africa by Southeast Asian palm oil firms grabbed headlines last month when farmers in Liberia denounced the “modern slavery” visited upon them by an Indonesian company, Golden Veroleum Liberia.
“The Indonesians came here for the first time in September 2010,” resident Benedict Manewah told AFP.
“They said, ‘We have a concession agreement, your president has sold it to us.’ Three months later they came back … and they started to destroy the properties, farmlands, crops, livestock and houses.”
Sime Darby, from Malaysia, was the subject of similar complaints in Liberia.
- Indonesia’s palm oil blues spreading to Africa, report says (eco-business.com)
- Capitalists amping up destruction of Congo rainforests for palm oil plantations (dgrnewsservice.org)
- The REDD contradiction: Deforestation and oil palm plantations in the Congo Basin (climate-connections.org)
- Felda Urges Tax-Free Palm Oil to Combat Reserves: Southeast Asia (bloomberg.com)
- Video: Environmental crime: In pursuit of the palm oil industry in Liberia (climate-connections.org)
- Starbucks Will Source Only Sustainable Palm Oil By 2015 (triplepundit.com)
- The Perils of Palm Oil (familysurvivalprotocol.com)
- Palm oil casualty? 14 pygmy elephants fall prey to pesticides in Borneo (csmonitor.com)
The palm oil, paper and timber industries in Indonesia are killing orangutans – literally driving the species into extinction.
Just over one hundred years ago the wild orangutan population is estimated to have been 350,000. Today there are less than 50,000. Their habitat has shrunk by 80%.
The orangutan population in Tripa peat swamp forest, located in Indonesia’s Aceh province, declined by 80% due to poaching, illegal logging and deforestation to make way for palm plantations. Indonesia’s moratorium on deforestation has no teeth, meaning death for orangutans and other species as well as serious other environmental implications, not least among them climate change.
Tripa forest contains the largest population of Sumatran orangutans and is home to the rare Sumatran tiger. Humans are also victims of deforestation, as their water supplies are diverted for use on palm plantations.
See this photo essay in the Guardian for more.
Wildfires, illegal wildlife traders, hunters and uninformed individuals who keep orangs as pets are all contributing to the great ape’s decline. On Indonesian Borneo orangutans are increasingly pushed into villages, where they may be killed, captured and kept as pets, or illegally sold. Local university students there recently found an orangutan which had been displaced by a palm oil firm and handed it over to wildlife authorities.
From the Jakarta Globe:
The rate at which the animals were being driven out of their natural habitats by companies clearing forests for plantations and coal mines has increased the amount of human-orangutan conflict in the area, the students said.
Orangutans are highly intelligent, solitary great apes who require forest land to live in and space to forage for food. Wild orangs have been documented manufacturing and using tools, while those in captivity are even using iPads at a zoo in the United States.
A field report from the Brookings Institution further explores the plight of orangutans due to illegal logging and mining in Indonesia. Here is an excerpt:
On either side of the road, there was little forest left – just palms as far as the eye could see. It was not clear to us where the orangutans would be going or why – perhaps there is so little food left in the forest that even here, in a national park, they are forced to eat the insides of the African oil palms, a foraging coping mechanism that frequently puts them in conflict with people and gets them killed.
Reports state that a group of local fishermen spotted the adult female orangutan carrying a small male infant (less than 1 year old) isolated and trapped in a single tree. With no other trees nearby SOCP said, it was impossible for the adult ape and her baby to get away without descending to the ground near them.
According to a joint press release by SOCP: comprising PanEco Foundation (Switzerland), Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) Aceh, and Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL) Medan, the fishermen decided to try and capture the infant to sell as a pet. SOCP explained:
First they had to cross a deep and wide drainage canal dug by the plantation company, then one of the men climbed the tree, pressuring and panicking the female orangutan so much that she eventually fell to the ground.
One of the men then beat the mother with timber and in the ensuing tussle she fled to a nearby tree, only then realizing that her infant was no longer with her. The fishermen were then able to smother the infant and steal him away from the site, with the mother only able to look forlornly on.
The group suggested that although the fishermen had no real desire to kill the mother, they saw an opportunity to obtain an infant and took advantage of it. “Fortunately for the mother”, they said, “she managed to escape with her life” before being badly beaten. Often “orangutan mothers are killed in such encounters,” the organization said.
The fishermen sold the infant orangutan for just IDR100,000 (USD10.40), to a local medical aide working for another nearby palm oil company, PT Socfindo. SOCP said it first heard about the infant shortly after he was captured on Jan. 26, but that staff had difficulty monitoring the pet as he was kept out of sight behind the house. After peering through a fence, SOCP spotted the animal being bathed and moved in to seize him.
SOCP veterinarian, drh. Ikhsani Surya Hidayat said that the infant orangutan was found in a very weak condition due to malnutrition and dehydration. Ikshani said, “We already fed him with enough milk and is likely to survive, but he is thin and also has a lot of intestinal worms that we have to treat as well.”
Dr. Ian Singleton of SOCP reported:
It is unusual for us to receive reports of the actual capture of a wild orangutan. Normally we only find out about them when they are spotted already at someone’s home. By confiscating illegal pet infants like this we are able to give them a second chance of a life in the wild.
Unfortunately for the mother said Singleton, her plight could be dire. While this case is “relatively unique” he said, because she also survived, “she may not survive for long.” He explained:
She is clearly hanging on in an area where the forests are still being cleared and most of her home range has probably already been destroyed.
As a result, he said, “her own prospects of survival may now actually be worse than those of her captured infant”.
For her baby, named Gokong Puntung by SOCP staff, the future appears brighter. For now, he is being held at the SOCP’s Orangutan Quarantine Centre near Medan, Sumatra. All being well SOCP said, he will eventually be returned to the wild at SOCP’s orangutan reintroduction center further north in Aceh.
It is illegal under Indonesian law to kill, capture, trade or keep an orangutan as a pet, an act that is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a 100 million rupiah fine ($10,000 USD).
The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme is a collaborative program involving the Swiss based PanEco Foundation (www.paneco.ch), Indonesia’s Yayasan Ecosistem Lestari (www.yelweb.org) and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (DitJen PHKA; www.dephut.go.id).
Sumatran orangutans are significantly at risk of extinction. Just last June, it was estimated that there were now only 200 orangutan left in the Rawa Tripa areas, a substantial drop in numbers compared to 1990, when almost 2,000 of the great apes were registered. Tripa is also part of the world renowned Leuser Ecosystem Conservation Area, in which more than 80% of the remaining Sumatran Orangutans, a critically endangered species, are barely hanging on.
The SOCP is involved in researching and monitoring wild Sumatran orangutan populations as well as raising awareness over the conservation of their remaining habitat. Wild orangutan populations have been decimated by illegal palm oil company deforestation.
- Pictures: Saving Sumatra’s Orangutans (news.nationalgeographic.com)
- 5 Biggest Environmental Stories of 2012 (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Baby Orangutan Smiles for Cameras After Risky Birth (peoplepets.com)
- Leuser Ecosystem Under Serious Threat (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Why are Orangutans Endangered (wanttoknowit.com)
- Extinction risk as Aceh opens forests for logging (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
A couple decades ago just prior to my postgraduate studies at The University of Melbourne I had the privilege of visiting an Indonesian rainforest. I encourage everyone to spend one night in a tropical rainforest; its rich array and cacophony of jungle life will change your life – forever.
A lot has changed since then – the ferocity and scale of ‘The War Against Nature‘ is heartbreaking – 300 football fields an hour of priceless tropical rainforests are being felled to make room for unregulated and unsustainable palm oil plantations.
In the 1960s, 82 percent of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands were endowed with tropical rainforests brimming with life. Today 48 percent are covered with patches of Earth’s biological treasures easily equivalent to Fort Knox, the Museum of Modern Art, the Louvre or the Prado. An incredible balance exists between the characteristics of all components of a rainforest from the tiniest insects, to the amount of sunlight; to the vast numbers of tree species, to water – the lifeblood of the Earth.
The peatland swamp tropical rainforests in Kallista Alam, Sumatra were I stayed in the early 1990s is gone. Rivers on almost every island now flow irregularly due to colossal deforestation; all islands suffer from massive soil erosion especially from draining thousands of years old peatland swamps; chlorine from pulp mills and mining course through the run-off; wildlife poaching is rampant; thousands of orangutans are scorched to death annually as forests are deliberately set alight; Bali and Javan tigers are extinct; there are less than 200critically endangered Sumatran rhinos remaining and about 45 critically endangered Java rhinos alive; about 1,500 remaining Borneo pygmy elephants are regularly poached and giant grouper and humphead wrasse are slaughtered in the Wakatobi Marine National Park with cyanide fishing, which kills all life on coral reefs. In 1989 there were five masses of tropical glaciers on the slopes of Puncak Jaya at 16,020 feet. By 2009 climate change consumed two glaciers and the remaining three are doomed by 2026.
Before I explain what’s fueling these escalating atrocities against Nature to the detriment of all humans, let me tell you why rainforests are so vitality important to the wellbeing of our planet. And then, what each of us can do to make a difference and stop this annihilation.
Living, breathing tropical rainforests are ‘total abundance.’ They make rain clouds, daily. The rain sustains all life and the white clouds reflect incoming solar radiation, which is the highest at the equator and those white clouds are of paramount importance for keeping Earth within a habitable temperature range for Homo sapiens — especially since we are missing record amounts of whiteice around the globe due to climate change.
Tropical rainforests along with coral reefs have the highest diversity of life forms on our globe. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute over 2,000 tropical rainforest plants (including Indonesia) contain the following potent chemicals that offer humans relief from: inflammation, fungal diseases, rheumatism, diabetes, muscle tension, malaria, coronary disease, skin diseases, arthritis, glaucoma and dozens of other cancers with thousands of medicines awaiting discovery. The caveat: Stop destroying all priceless tropical forests.
Tropical rainforests are crucial in helping humans fight climate change. Trees are the greatest CO2 warehouses ever to have evolved (over the past 350 million years) on Earth. In fact, for every metric ton of wood created, 1.5 metric tons of CO2 is absorbed and 1 metric ton of oxygen is released. In about a decade there will be an additional one billion people on Earth – that’s a lot more oxygen that Earthlings will require; tropical rainforests have a huge role to play in supplying our birthrights: Clean air and fresh water.
Tropical forests are also a hotbed for evolution – an awesome potential for new forms of life to develop or a process known as speciation.
From 2000 to 2010 according to the United Nations — Earth lost three times the area equivalent to California in tropical rainforests. Tropical rainforests and coral reefs are our grandchildren’s legacy; they must be safeguarded.
The value of living, intact and vibrant tropical rainforests significantly outweighs clearing the jungle to obtain a one-off payment (in many cases just to make high quality paper) leaving barren (often burnt-over) lands and their thin, fragile soils exposed to irreparable erosion.
Indonesian tropical rainforests are being converted into unsustainable and unregulated palm oil plantations. Palm oil is the world’s most used vegetable oil and its consumption in China, India and elsewhere is escalating, rapidly.
Palm oil comes from the fruit of African oil palm trees or Elaeis guineenis. It’s used in a wide assortment of food products, animal feeds, soaps, cosmetics and bio-diesel (which by the way the EPA has ruled against its use in America).
The rapacious and corrupt massacre of Indonesian tropical rainforests has yielded high margins of returns for investors as currently Indonesia and Malaysia control about 85 percent of the world’s market share or $40 billion in sales, annually.
As if this weren’t bad enough the insatiable demand for more palm oil is fueling the draining of Indonesia’s tropical peatland swamps. Diverse tropical, climate-buffering rainforests are being turned into void, monoculture palm oil plantations.
In addition to plundering these magnificent tropical rainforests – akin to burning each work of art within the Louvre, this senseless destruction of Nature is taking thousands of years worth of carbon storage in the peatland swamps and literally washing it down the river.
These 50- to 70-foot thick saturated peat swamps contain about 58 billion tons of stored heat-trapping carbon, which if left unregulated will all bleed into our atmosphere within the next 15 years as all swamps will be drained.
In May 2010, Norway entered into a bilateral agreement with Indonesia offering $1 billion compensation for not destroying tropical rainforests. Clearly, it is not a large enough compensation. It is perplexing and frustrating to report that all 200 countries at the Doha climate talks could not agree to save Indonesia’s 105 million acres of remaining rainforests. One small agreement to protect 176,000 acres of Borneo’s Kalimantan forest was salvaged at the tail end of the December (2012) climate talks.
Climate change is occurring rapidly and Earth forests on every continent are beginning to die including immense swaths of the Amazon basin – 200 nations must come together to protect all the remaining tropical rainforests. Moreover, all future palm oil plantations require sustainable certification. There are enough denuded tropical lands amongst the Indonesian islands and elsewhere, which could easily accommodate sustainable palm oil plantations to meet the rising market demands.
In the meantime, each of us is required to lend a helping hand. Scrutinize all products you buy as palm oil is likely an ingredient in the following items: ice creams, chocolate, biscuits, crackers, chips, margarine, fruit juices, pet foods, batter, soaps, toothpastes, laundry powders, detergents, cosmetics (listed as Elaeis guineenis). Refuse to buy it! If we all vote together with our wallets our purchasing power will stop the destruction of tropical rainforests.
- Dr. Reese Halter: Rapacious War Against Nature: Indonesian Palm Oil (huffingtonpost.com)
- WWF urges Indonesian pulp producer APRIL to immediately stop pulping tropical forests (wwf.panda.org)
- Tropical Rainforest (socyberty.com)
Pygmy elephant calf desperately tries to wake up dead mother who was one of ten animals found poisoned
- A total of ten of the creatures have been discovered in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, Borneo, over the past three weeks
- Conservation officials believe the endangered animals had been poisoned
- Estimated to be fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants in existence
A baby pygmy elephant tries in vain to rouse its mother, one of ten of the endangered creatures found dead in a Malaysian forest.
Experts believe the rare, baby-faced animals, whose bodies were found in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in Sabah state, Borneo, had been poisoned.
Wildlife officials rescued this three-month-old elephant calf, which was found glued to its dead mother’s side in the jungle.
The seven female and three male elephants, which were all from the same family group, have been found over the past three weeks.
Sabah’s environmental minister Masidi Manjun said the cause of death appeared to be poisoning, but it was not yet clear whether the animals had been deliberately killed.
There are believed to be fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants in existence.
While some have been killed for their tusks in the area in recent years, there was no evidence to suggest the elephants had been poached.
‘This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state,’ Mr Masidi said in a statement.
‘If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned, I would personally make sure that the culprits would be brought to justice and pay for their crime.’
Borneo pygmy elephants live mainly in Sabah and grow to about 8ft tall, a foot or two shorter than mainland Asian elephants.
Known for their babyish faces, large ears and long tails, pygmy elephants were found to be a distinct subspecies only in 2003, after DNA testing.
Their numbers have stabilised in recent years amid conservation efforts to protect their jungle habitats from being torn down for plantations and development projects.
The elephants found dead this month were believed to be from the same family group and ranged in age from 4 to 20 years, said Sen Nathan, the wildlife department’s senior veterinarian.
Post-mortem examinations showed that they had suffered severe haemorrhages and ulcers in their gastrointestinal tracts. None had gunshot injuries.
‘We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten, but we are still waiting for the laboratory results,’ Mr Nathan said